Dweezil ZAPPA: "Automatic" 8
Favored Nations 2001
7 August 2001
Let me start this one with the description of the inside artwork. It's a photo of a multi-effect processor with the usual effect buttons and wheels but the display shows Dweezil's face in the usual greenish display colors. Quite apt, I would say (good job by the designer) as Dweezil is a real effect guru and he proves that with almost all the tracks. His guitar sounds remind me a bit of Neil Zaza but the guitar playing is not as straightforward and easy-to-get-into as Neil's. Still fans of instrumental guitar rock will thoroughly enjoy this album.
The opening "Fwakstension" gives a quite good summary of the whole album: great guitar sounds, catchy playing, lots of cool tricks, weird rhythms, even some highly techno based experimenting, yet a very entertaining mix of them all. So is the following title track "Automatic" that guests another guitar hero Blues Saraceno, not to mention Joe Travers on drums (some of the tracks feature the king of session drummers: Terry Bozzio). If you could not get into the first two tracks don't even try to go on with the album, it's no use. "Hawaii Five-O" is quite far from the openers, also quite far from hard rock, one of the skippers; unlike the only vocal track of the album "You're A Mean One Mister Grinch" featuring Ahmet, Dweezil's brother on vocals; a fun rendition of the Dr. Zeuss classic, one just gotta love the change between the soundtrack sounding parts and the hard rocking refrains. "Therapy" follows but if it's what its title says I'd rather not stay in the Zappa hospital, it's just some weird improvisation. The "12 String Thing" and "Secret Hedges" wash the bad taste away as both of them are highly melodic and easy to digest, not to mention the following Bizet compositions from the opera Carmen, "Habanera" and "Les Toreadors", better than the Great Kat playing Beethoven… :) "Shnook" is so weird that it would make even his daddy proud, "Dick Cinnamon's Office" is a good joke with lots of truth in it (hear it yourselves!) and the highlight of the album is left to close it: "Purple Guitar" is the best, most driving track of the album with catchy riffs and flashy solos and even though it's longer than 9 minutes it does not get boring at all.
Bottom line is: if you are an old-timer fan of instrumental albums you can't go wrong with this one; if you like "popular" instru artists only like Zaza or Satch it might be time to take one step further and you might want to give Dweezil a try; but if you are not into this kind of art, take a listen first before purchasing.
ZAR: "Hard To The Beat" 4
MTM Music 2003
The German band ZAR started out in the late 80's with John Lawton (ex- Uriah Heep etc.) as their frontman. He only sang briefly with the band and left soon after the debut album, "Live Your Life Forever". This is the overall 4th album by the lederhosen lads and it's really a disasterous comeback.
Gone are the somewhat "original" ideas from the past and "Hard To The Beat" is a rather boring repeat of the past and themselves. Band leader Tommy Clauss (guitars/songwriter) is working with the talanted singer Andre Huber here [nope, it's not our Bandi]. A gifted vocalist with the ability of singing both at the low and high register.
Sadly it seems like they've forgot how to write some killer songs this time around. I really thought this to be a nice CD though, especially after listening to the first two tracks included here. Both "Cryin' For Love" and "Never So Alone", are slick German Rock in the tradition of Bonfire and the work of Zar in the past. The title track is a nice party stomper and the ballad "Hundred Rivers", is nothing less than a masterpiece. The vocal harmonies together with the acoustic guitars, makes this one of the ballads of the year. Unfortunately the CD simply dies right in front of me beyond this point. Only the Rainbow/Joe Lynn Turner inspired "Waiting For The Storm", is a ok slow-song with cleverly performed guitarwork by Clauss. The rest is uninspired and darn right boring hardrock, without anything remotely good or fresh.
ZARDOZ: "Broken Mirror"
Zardoz? Whatta heck is a Zardoz anyway?? Beats me, but your guess is as good as mine anyway. Especially since I don't have a clue, what the name stands for in the first place. A town maybe? A writer/poet? A dog/cat? Whatever, this particular Zardoz comes from Germany though and do play some really catchy, kick-ass rock.
"Broken Mirror" is their third, independent release, since the mid-90's and I must admit that I'm really hooked by their material here. The quartet of Holger Blickle (vocals), Stefan Kreutz (guitars), Frank Hafner (bass) and Markus Schubel (drums) have managed to come up with music in the finest tradition of 80's hardrock with a touch of Sleaze (the music style, it's not a band). Actually, methinks they also have a Scandinavian sound in the mix. They actually do have some rude attitude á la Shotgun Messiah, during their 'Second Coming' period here.
Vocalist Blickle's singing approach is pretty cocky á la Tim-Tim (Shotgun Messiah) with that typical 'I Don't Care 'Bout Nothing' attitude (Yeah, Zinny sang it... but who cares?). Now, don't go thinking Zardoz must be Messiah copycats. They're not!! I'm just saying they have the same approach to music, not the exact/same sound. "Broken Mirror" is only a 7-track CD with the song "Running Through The Night" featured twice actually, the second version is a nice radio edit mix. However, this is one helluva song with a Sleaze meets the Scandinavian sound of Return (their 'V' album) somehow. "Going Crazy" is everything that Pretty Boy Floyd ever wish they were. "Fire In The Sky" is like a kick to the head with some excellent guitarwork by Kreutz. "My World" is Dokken & Shotgun Messiah in one lovely mix. "Crying Out In The Rain" continues on the same Dokken meets American Sleaze style, while "Roses From The Heart" had me dancing on the tables. Believe me, this is quality music from start to finish. Make sure to check out the site below for now and expect to hear a lot more from Zardoz in the future to come.
Neil ZAZA: "Staring At The Sun" 8
Nuerra Records 1999
Neil Zaza is being compared to the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani on his bio, and I can see why. I wouldn't be surprised if he became a household name like those two one day soon, as he is clearly a very talented individual. Mr. Zaza isn't just a great guitar player, but a great composer, and "Staring At The Sun" is easily as melodic as any AOR album you can think of. And speaking of AOR, the rhythm section features none other than Journey's Steve Smith on drums and Ross Valory on bass! Actually, couple of the tracks could easily be mistaken for Journey songs without vocals, like the awesome ballad "The Wonder Of You".
Zaza's brilliant sense of melody is evident all over the album, but it's those ballads that let him shine. "Lost In Your Dream" (touches of Bach's "Air" there), "Every Thought Of You" and "Angel" should please any melodic rock fan. The uptempo numbers like "Fargo" and "I Spy" are quite good as well, and the cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" isn't too bad either. Dare I say that I'd rather listen to Zaza's guitar than Prince's falsetto vocals? I guess I just did!
All in all, a fine slice of melodic rock, and an album I can recommend to just about anyone who's into AOR and melodic rock, even the most passionate widdlywiddly axehero haters!
ZEBRA: "IV" 7
The history of Zebra with its stripes and everything goes all the way back to the early 70's. Randy Jackson (vocals/guitars), Felix Hanemann (bass) and Guy Gelso (drums) met up while playing in the Maelstrom band. The three of them decided to leave and join forces as the black & white horsie in 1975.
Success didn't exactly happen over night though. It actually took them another eight years until their debut album [Zebra - 1983], was finally released by Atlantic records. Two more albums followed shortly [No Tellin' Lies - 1984 & 3V - 1986] and the band was being compared to the likes of Rush, Triumph, Yes & Led Zep. The voice of Jackson can be described as the super version of Geddy Lee (Rush), since everything is much louder, higher, and some would probably say more annoying and darn squeeky. One thing's for sure... if you're not into extremly high-pitched vocals... ehhh... look the other way for the next couple of minutes.
"IV" is their comeback album some seventeen years later down the road and the trademarks of the original sound is 'very' present. The original line-up is back together and Jackson's voice hasn't changed a bit since the 80's. Something which 'China Rain' and 'The Sign' fans are already well aware of. Louisiana & Long Island residents do also know this as Zebra has continued to play live gigs every now and then, during all these years. Many of the songs included here are more or less leftover from previous albums. In fact, some of them goes all the way back to 1975 [Free, My Life Has Changed]. They were obviously not good enough to put on record back then? So I wonder what makes them fine by now? The first one would have been better off still in the closet, while the latter is OK I guess. It's a Led Zep inspired tune with wicked groove and nice refrain. "Light Of My Love" ended up on the China Rain project, this is just another version of the same song. You need to have patience with this disc and several spins are recquired, to really appreciate some of the tracks. I do however miss a couple of really catchy tunes like "Tell Me What You Want", "Better Not Call" or "Hard Livin' Without You", from the past. You wont find anything as good on this record I'm afraid. "Arabian Nights", "Who Am I", "So I Dance", "A World That Is Learning" and "Why", are all fine, typical, Zebra songs though. "Waiting To Die" is one depressive and boring song and "Angels Calling" is another Led Zep inspired tune with nice lyrics. Bottomline, I did expect more and I can't help feeling a bit disappointed here. It became better with each spin and me thinks it's worthy of its 7 rating in the end.
ZEBRAFISH: "Brace For Impact!"
In spite of the strange name, Zebrafish aren’t all what you might expect judging by the name. They haven’t escaped from a madhouse or haven’t bred a new spieces of animals.Zebrafish really exists and it’s not a combination of a fish and zebra, but simply a fish. The band is quite versatile, so the name suites the band well for that matter. Zebrafish hails from Finland with members Jouni Porio-voc/gt/prog, Jari Vireaho-dr/perc, Johanna Vireaho-keys/backing vocals and Esa Räsänen on bass.
Now we all know finns can play heavy metal, but this time we’re not talking about metal. Zebrafish are most of all an entertaining band, so don’t get all fired up for the cliché metal screams or loud and fast guitars. Here’s the right time to relax after the effects of your daily dose of coffein have worn off. From the first song ”Precious Hearts” on you can just lay back and enjoy the light and loose feeling that is so characteristic to Zebrafish. Along the way you hear influences from funk, prog, even some ethnic touches and other elements. And even with all that included the band manages to keep the songs well together.
Three of the songs are mid-tempo; ”Precious Hearts”, ”If I Can Let Go” and ”Brace Myself”, but ”Reaching Out” begins as a slower track with whispers and keys and fastens up a bit in the end. It’s gentle and touching and the shortest track here too, just three minutes. The overall feeling the songs bring is a happy one, there’s enough air in the music that it works well in their genre. And all the small additions along the way like a bit of oriental touch or Red Hot Chili-like drive bubbling underneath fit right in. It might be hard to put Zebrafish into a certain category. I could name a whole bunch of bands I can hear in their music, say bands like Jane’s Addiction, Mother Love Bone, Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield and that’s just a start.
Zebrafish have a clear, good picture of their music and the ability to put all the pieces together. They have a finished product that doesn’t really need changes. Personally I would’ve prefered to hear more vocal tracks here, so it would sound more pompous and have this Journey-like touch to it. Or maybe add some echo to a few places. But that’s just my opinion and I love to listen to great, full vocals. But Zebrafish works the way they are. Johanna’s backing vocals are a great addition for the feeling they’re after here. She’s got a clear, touching and angelic voice. But check out this cheerful band if you’re into light and vivid pop music. They are worthy of your attention.
ZERO HOUR: "Metamorphosis" 8
Sensory Records 2003
Zero Hour came out of the ashes of the grunge wave, which swept throughout America (and the rest of the world) in the early to mid 90's. This San Francisco Bay Area quartet, with Tipton twin brothers Jason (guitar) & Troy (bass) at the helm, set out to create music they still believed to be the real deal and nothing else.
It's complex and heavy progressive metal with influences of legendery bands such as Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater. "Metamorphosis" was actually released independently by the band already in 1998. That pressing was quickly sold out and Sensory Records decided to re-release it, now with two bonus tracks added.
They've had their up's and down's during the years and keyboardist Mike Connor actually devoloped carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands (?!). Which of course meant the end of his playing days and Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma) & Phillip Bennett (Starship, Enchant), handle all keys on the album. With only six tracks to be found (not included the two bonus one's) this is indeed progressive metal at its fullest. The title track is however divided into four parts, where each act (Decent, Awaken, Union, Solace) tell its own story. The cleverly done arrangements and some nicely told lyrics, makes this one awesome epic track. The voice of Erik Rosvold (ex-Prodigy) soars all over the place and you truly believe in every word he sings. "The System Remains" is perhaps one of the most rememberable, complex, prog-metal songs lately. Every fan of the genre will recognize this to be simply amazing and breathtaking music. You can easily say the same about both "Rebirth" and "Voice Of Reason", for that matter. I can't say that I enjoy the instrumental "Passage" or the bonus, demo, version of "Eyes Of Denial". Especially since you can also find the latter as the opening track on this CD. Nevertheless, this is very good prog-metal with a nice production. Darn close to a 9 rating by the way!!!
ZERO NINE: "White Lines (reissue)" 7
ZERO NINE: "Intrigue (reissue)" 9
Poko Records 2003
A major part of Finnish hard rock history has finally converted into CD format with the release of these two mid-eighties Zero Nine albums. They were the only ones from their catalogue yet to be reissued, which was quite weird as they were probably their most successful albums!
"White Lines" (1985) was the fourth album for the band from northern Finland, and marked a departure from their old sound. With the help of producer TT Oksala, the band abandoned their seventies' styled hard rock sound in favour of something more up-to-date. Thanks to a new major label deal, the band had a chance to spend a lot of time in the studio, and the results were remarkable indeed. The band had a product with which they were able to compete with the foreign bands of the era. "White Lines" is something that could now be compared to the Bon Jovi album "7800 Fahrenheit" released the same year, only Zero Nine were quite a bit heavier.
Now that I'm listening to this album in 2003, I must say that it's actually better than I remembered. Maybe I was more impressed by the more exotic foreign bands back then, and never gave Zero Nine enough credit. I recall liking a couple of songs from this one, and sure enough, the old favourites "White Lines" and "Never Stop Runnin'" are still fine hard rockers, but others like "So Hot" and "Don't You Give An Inch" are very good too. Having said that, not all the songs have aged as nicely, so it's only a "7"...
"Intrigue" (1986) is for me the band's finest moment. Inside a weird, very un-hard rock cover lies a very good album. The band opted for a slightly harder edge and a more guitar-oriented sound, but at the same time they managed to write some great hooks and melodies. They even had their first chart-topping hit with the single "Banging On Drums" and made a video for the title track (an epic ballad), filmed in the suitably grandiose surroundings of their home area in Lapland.
The aforementioned single hit opens the album, a fierce rocker with a good chorus. "Drag Me To The Moon" features another excellent chorus, while "Angel Of Mercy" borrows a little from Kiss' "Heaven's On Fire" without being a full-on rip-off. Next up there's "Dump Me", arguably one of the finest songs of the band with a killer chorus. The stomping "No Man's Land" and more uptempo "Cut" follow, both good, solid tracks. The title track sees the band moving into a different direction, as it is a majestic, almost progressive ballad that reminds me of Queensrÿche and the likes.
The last four tracks lead us back the more familiar waters. "To The Crux" is a decent hard rocker, "Na Na Naa" a catcy, simple sing-along anthem originally recorded by Cozy Powell, "To The Mountain" a frantic, yet melodic track while the closing number "Under The Freeway" represents the more thoughtful side of the band, with some neat tempo changes and somewhat weird lyrics.
ZERO NINE: "Key To The Paradise"
Well this has been something that Finnish hard rock fans have been waiting for...the return of ZERO NINE! The band started their career over 20 years ago, released 7 albums during the eighties, called it a day for a few years, made a decent comeback album in the mid-nineties, only to call it a day again. Now with the 80'ies Hard Rock enjoying some kind of a revival, the time was right for the band to give it another go...and they do it with style!
"Key To The Paradise" starts with unusual, almost reggae-like rhythms, but fear not, when the pre-chorus kicks in, the guitars are cranked up, and the chorus is as big as they come, with a bit of a "Pour Some Sugar On Me"-vibe. The second track "Rock Talk" is a more straight-forward rocker, with a chorus that reminds me a bit of Baton Rouge's "Doctor".
The album's due out in July, and needless to say I'm really looking forward to it...Well, I guess I said it anyway! With "Key To..." most probably all over Finnish radio, both House Of Mirrors and Human Temple releasing their new albums in June, and who knows what else, I think it's going to be a hard rockin' summer over here!
ZINATRA: "Zinatra" 6 & "The Great Escape" 9
Snakebite Records 2004
Snakebite Records have done a wonderful job re-packaging the two sought-after eighties' albums from Dutch melodic hard rockers Zinatra. Both albums come with several bonustracks and liner notes from vocalist Joss Mennen, and they are available in a nice box set.
Zinatra was originally formed to be a vehicle for songwriter Kelly (aka Arnie Treffers). Indeed his songs dominate the first album ("Zinatra", 1988). Producer Erwin Musper gets a decent share of the credits too. The first album is clearly the weaker one of the two. Stylewise we're talking about commercial hard rock of the era, think Europe, Bon Jovi, Fate and countless others. Zinatra's (or Kelly's) songs range from very good to embarassingly bad. The good ones include the opening duo of "Looking For Love" and "Love Or Loneliness" (both sizeable hits for the band) and a few others, while the bad ones include the dodgy cover of a musical number "Somewhere", the boogie rockin' "Rock And Roll Hangover" and the over-the-top ballad "Hero" which is just too corny to be taken seriously...
As the band started working on their second album, their management brought in keyboard player Robby Valentine, as guitarist Sebastian Floris had left the band earlier. Another change was in the songwriting department, Kelly's songs weren't the foundation of "The Great Escape", he only wrote two songs for it. Instead producer Musper found four songs written by Paul Laine, Valentine wrote three and the rest came from the founding member Ron Lieberton and Musper. The band's sound evolved into a more pompous and keyboard-dominated one, and all in all the album number two sounded more mature.
The songs on "The Great Escape" are quite excellent indeed: "Two Sides Of Love", "Only Your Heart", "Too Blind To See", "There She Goes" and "Jekyll And Hyde" are all top-notch AOR tracks, just to name a few. There's even one gem among the three bonustracks, "You Only Live Once" is very good too.
ZON: "Astral Projector & Back Down To Earth" 8
Escape Music 2003
Escape Records have done it again with a great 2-CD digi-pack release. The digital remastering of the two Zon albums "Astral Projector" (1978) and "Back Down To Earth" (1979), is something which Pomp-Rock fans all over the world has been waiting years & years, to finally come true.
This Canadian rockact came together in the mid-70's when vocalist Denton Young's previous band Act Three, lost their guitarist Rik Emmett to Triumph. The other members at the time for these two recordings were: Brian Miller (guitars), Jim Samson (bass), Howard Helm (keys), and drummer Kim Hunt (Urgent, Moxy, etc). The unique band name "Zon" was actually a made up word by the band. It's actually the Dutch word for "Sun", which they found out years later though.
"Astral Projector" is considered to be a classic pomp album by many fans of the genre. It's typical rock for its time, filled with mini-moogs, theatrical aspects, and overblown music. Very much like the mixture of Styx & Starcastle, with a touch of Queen perhaps? From the bombastic opener "Put On The Show" to the grand finale of the closing ballad "Hollywood", you wont find many dull moments here. Good music with lovely vocal harmonies and musicians that could actually play! Keep in mind that it's very "70-ish" though and you need to love your Styx albums and everything that goes with the genre. For instance "Melody" is sooo cheesy and close to being hoplessly lame, that it's almost laughable. With "Back Down To Earth" Zon became more Rock inspired and simply put, commercial. The biggest albums then were the one's with Boston & Meatloaf and the label demanded shorter hit-songs. The Pomp sound is still there just not as strong and the material became actually only weaker. !
Opener "Circus", "Please Stay", "Lifeline", "As Seasons Change", and the catchy titletrack are all winners in my book. Some of the tracks haven't aged well with the times and I find them to be darn boring actually. This package is still something out of the ordinary though and it's pretty much a "must have" release, for notalgic fans of 70's Pomp.
| ZOOL: "S/T" 7 |
Lucretia Records 2002
| Review by 2 August 2002 |
Holy Crap! Holy Diver! Long Live Rock'N'Roll! Perfect Strangers! The Headless Cross! Take a closer look at the mentioned albums above and tell me which one I should remove? Seriously though, if you simply do not pay any attention to the first one... you already know what this album will mostly sound like.
I'm not saying this is quite as good as those forever classic albums. However, the Swedish band "ZOOL" with ex. Moahni Moahna (SMC Records) members: Martin Häggström (vocals) & Henrik Flyman (guitars). Have really managed to capture a lot of the Rainbow, DIO, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath sound here.
This is their debut album at Lucretia Records and while a couple of tracks (Throne of Thor etc.) are a bit more 'doom' oriented material, the rest of them can only be described as 'old school' hardrock with an excellent vocalist. Martin comes through like the bastard son of both Ian Gillan & R.J. Dio here, a very powerful and dramatic vocal style indeed. Add to this some good guitarwork in the old tradition of Blackmore/Iommi and the result can only be solid rock. I'm not too crazy about the 'doom-ish' material, but some of the others are really good instead. Opener "Snake Eyes" is very much Ian Gillan with Rainbow as backing band, "Valley Of The Witch" has some lovely guitarwork and groove, and "The Shepherd And The Lamb" is a great, melodic, semi-ballad with an outstanding vocal performance. Majestic's keyboard player Richard Andersson, delivers some cool keys on this CD, other musicians involved at upcoming shows will be drummer Kenneth Olsen (Royal Hunt) & Kasper Gram (Manticora, Wuthering Heights). Nice album, unfortuntely, a couple too many fillers to be really great though.
Z Plan: "Circus" 6
Victory Alley Records 1998
Z Plan's biggest claim to fame in the AOR circles may be the fact that Cult AOR hero Jeff Cannata produced their album, but I am sure that they will find their audience too. I have had this album for a while, and it's a good thing I didn't review it in a hurry, because I like it now a lot more than I initially did. Yep, what we have here is "a grower"!
Most of these songs do not have immediate appeal, they may sound a bit samey and too slow for the most part after a few spins, but given time one might be able to find some hidden aspects in them. At least that's what happened to me.
The music of Z plan reminds me a bit of The Bridge, the project of Lillian Axe vocalist Ron Taylor, acoustic guitar-driven pop rock. Other influences my old ears picked up include King's X and Simon & Gartfunkel - check out "Maybe" if you don't believe. I was half-expecting them to follow it with "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Sound Of Silence"! The harmony vocalizing of these guys has to be heard to be believed!
For me, the highlights were the more uptempo tracks like the catchy "Let Love Will Lead The Way" (A bit like Nelson) and "So Long To Yesterday". Out of the more mellow - or should I say "dreamy"- material I especially liked "Guilty" and "Lessons" (nice surprise uptempo finale there!).
Admittedly I can't quite get a grip of all the songs, but as usually, I'll leave the final judgement to you. I'd recommend this to anyone who's into the Bridge album, the lighter moments of Nelson's "Because They Can" or Simon and Gartfunkel (hopefully I spelled that right!) with a modern approach. Just don't expect anything to hit you right away...
Check out the the Z Plan website
ZZTOP: "Mescalero" 9
It took them four years – “XXX” is from 1999 – to make and release a new album; but it was worth waiting for. I last saw these guys doing their thing at Bospop(July 12)and then I was rather disappointed. The show and the music could not really blow me of my feet, but “Mescalero” proves the critics(yours truly included)wrong.
It is a great album with 16 rhythm and blues songs that are definitely worth checking out. Right from the start Billy, Dusty and Frank beat, pound, growl, snarl and play like in the good old days of ZZ Top. Here you can hear the grandmasters of the boogie and blues, who provide us with great diversity and especially “slimy”, greasy and “treacly” guitar riffs and mean guitar solos. Tracks like “What It Is Kid” or the swinging “Tramp” and “Crunchy” show ZZ Top at their best; these guys can still boogie…
There are also a few surprises; e.g. the curious country-like singalong song “What Would You Do” or the mariachi song, with Spanish lyrics “Que Lastima” and last but not least; one of the highlights: “Goin’ So Good”, a slow blues track with a super relaxed guitar solo. Just when you think you are at the end of the cd, and you want to play it again, you get a bonus(hidden) track of 5 minutes; “Time Goes By”, a classic. So, ZZ Top is back and they are back with a vengeance; “Mescalero” is a masterpiece of rhythm and blues rock. So get your copy now..